by Thais Harris, NC
Nutrition Education Program Manager, Ceres Community Project
It feels great to look back at the year and see how much progress has been made in the nutrition field! Not only have we taken many steps to disseminate better information about what constitutes good nutrition worldwide and nationwide, in our smaller-scale Ceres world we were able to implement programs, join coalitions, and present at conferences and symposiums to support this effort.
• USDA 2015 Dietary guidelines:
Though the actual guidelines have not been published yet, the scientific report from the advisory committee has, and it states:
“The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains. Vegetables and fruit are the only characteristics of the diet that were consistently identified in every conclusion statement across the health outcomes.”
I want to emphasize their recommendation for more fruits and vegetables, as this is something we hold very strongly at Ceres. I also want to add some information regarding the low- or non-fat dairy recommendation, as this is a controversial issue because so much depends on the quality of dairy.
Fat plays a very important role in maintaining health, and consumption of healthy fats is needed for a number of functions in our bodies every day. Since the USDA panel cannot yet discern between grass-fed, organic dairy and conventional, the recommendation to use low- or non-fat makes some sense because toxins get stored in fat, and conventional dairy tends to carry a lot of the toxins the cows are exposed to. Also, when looking at the Standard American Diet (SAD) and overall consumption of dairy and calories, a recommendation to choose low to non-fat dairy is sensible in reducing calorie consumption.
However, the optimal way to view this issue would be to recommend a balanced diet, with the appropriate amount of healthy fats and a focus on WHOLE foods, which would include full fat dairy, as long as the dairy is clean, ie. grass-fed and (or at least) organic. For those who do not consume dairy, there are many other ways to get those healthy fats: avocadoes, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. Read my article "Understanding Fats" here.
• More than 75 experts from the U.S., Canada and Europe have reached a first-of-its-kind consensus on overall nutrition recommendations at the Finding Common Ground summit in Boston, including recommendations highlighting the sustainability of food choices and improvements in food literacy. You can see the 11 recommendations here. Ceres’ Food Philosophy is in line with all of these.
• Bread for the World’s 2016 Hunger Report-The Nourishing Effect: Ending Hunger, Improving Health, Reducing Inequality was released. Main points include:
- Nutritious food is essential to healthy growth and development and can prevent the need for costly medical care. Many chronic diseases – the main drivers of cost growth and poor population health outcomes – are diet-related.
- The US spends more per capita on health care than any other high-income country but compares poorly with these others on key population health indicators. This is due in part to our tolerance, as a nation, for higher levels of poverty and hunger.
- Socioeconomic inequalities drive population-wide health disparities. Socioeconomic factors such as housing, education, employment opportunities and access to healthy food have a larger impact on health outcomes than medical care.
• The World Health Organization (WHO)’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) announced that consumption of processed meat is “carcinogenic to humans.” And the US Dietary Guidelines Committee issued a review of diet and health earlier this year and one of its conclusions was that consumption of red meat should be low for both human and planet health. It is reaffirming for us at Ceres to see these major reports coming out with information that supports our Food Philosophy. We look forward to seeing policy change in accordance with these recommendations and to being part of an even larger movement towards a more sustainable, healthy and accessible way of growing, distributing, and eating food.
The 5 key concepts that guide our food philosophy are:
1) Every Bite Counts: Every day in our country, 49 million Americans lack the nourishing food they need to thrive. The poor, children, seniors and low-income people struggling with serious illness are most at risk and are the very people who most need the highest quality nutrition.
2) Nutrition is about more than macronutrients: A healthy diet encompasses much more than calories or ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates. We need vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients (especially antioxidants), enzymes and probiotics. These nutrients are best provided when we eat a wide variety of clean and unrefined whole foods.
3) Inflammation can be avoided: Food can be either inflammatory (sugar, poor quality and processed meats, fried foods, junk foods, and refined grains) or anti-inflammatory (whole, plant-based foods, and wild, oily fish). Since inflammation is at the root of most diseases, choosing anti-inflammatory foods will pay off in the long term.
4) Organic foods are safest: they reduce our exposure to toxins in pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides; reduce pollution of farm land, air and waterways, and organic practices are safer for farm workers.
5) Local foods offer the most benefits: they have higher nutrient content when harvested at their peak and consumed right away, rather than traveling hundreds or often thousands of miles. They also support a strong local economy and build food security/resiliency in local communities in case of natural disasters.
Emphasize vegetables in every meal (yes, even breakfast!)
• Aim for 11 servings of fruits and vegetables each day:
7 servings of vegetables and 4 servings of fruit, for optimal health. If this is a challenge, just keep in mind that the bare minimum amount of vegetables is 3 servings and fruits is 2 servings a day, according to the USDA. Put vegetables in dips (such as hummus), in smoothies, in eggs (or frittatas), as snacks with hummus or nut butters, and in wraps & sandwiches.
• Quality, quality, quality. Make sure that if you do eat dairy and meats, that you can source the best option possible: 100% grass-fed, organic, pasture-raised, and local.
• Limit your consumption of processed foods, refined grains, added sugars, fried foods, and processed vegetable oils.
• Avoid processed meats (hot dogs, deli meats).
Stay tuned next month, when I’ll cover some of the specific highlights of our accomplishments in this field at Ceres this past year.
May you have a wonderful holiday season.
Thais Harris, NC